If you’d been at Baton Rouge’s Metro Airport on Friday afternoon, as we were, you might have seen a group of middle school students board a flight on a journey that would eventually take them to Europe. They were scheduled to land in France today — June 6, 2015.
Nothing really special in any of this, we suppose. The school year is over, and that means a number of lucky kids in Louisiana and elsewhere in the United States will be taking student trips overseas.
But we couldn’t help thinking of the small historical coincidence at work here — this latest group of young Americans landing in France on June 6. It’s a date that resonates in France, and that should resonate among every schoolchild in America, although we doubt that it does.
On June 6, 1944, more than 160,000 Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy — a massive invasion of soldiers, most of them American, intended to begin the liberation of Europe from the Nazis. It was a terrible, bloody mess, as thousands of young men rolled ashore, profoundly vulnerable to German soldiers on the cliffs above.
But the Allies persevered, against daunting odds, and that day marked the beginning of the end of the cruel, fascist tyranny that had darkened modern civilization.
Today’s Europe — democratic, free, open to youngsters and people of all ages who don’t have to dodge bullets to enter its shores — was made possible by the sacrifices of life and limb on that Normandy beach, 71 years ago today. More than 9,000 Allied soldiers were killed or wounded. Many of the dead rest today in a military cemetery at Normandy. All of the graves face home — to America.
Last month, Americans paused briefly on Memorial Day to remember all of those who have died in military service to this country. Today’s anniversary of D-Day is a reminder that those warriors died in specific ways in specific places — at Normandy, at Iwo Jima, in Korea, Vietnam and, more recently, Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s not a pleasant thing to think about, but remembrance is what we owe the fallen.
Luckily, Louisiana residents don’t have to travel far to find opportunities for this kind of reflection. The National World War II Museum in New Orleans is an especially good place to start.
We hope that Louisiana families make the museum a part of their summer plans. It’s one way to remember a summer day, 71 years ago today, when thousands of young men went to the beach and secured the liberty we still enjoy.